Optometrist Zach Unruh is excited about the optical coherence tomography (OCT) unit recently made available for patients at Mid Kansas Eye Care in Hillsboro.
The state-of-the-art machine uses lasers to create a three-dimensional image of the back of the optic nerve and a cross section of the retina.
The high-definition image enables Unruh to examine the condition of the optic nerve as well as each of the 10 layers of the retina separately.
“The two biggest eye diseases that most people think of are glaucoma and macular degeneration,” Unruh said. “This actually has scans for each of those things, so it kind of combines the two.”
With the new machine, Unruh can isolate different layers of the retina to see what the pathology looks like.
“This is great, because most of the time when I’m talking about these things, the patient has no idea what it looks like,” he said.
“But now I can pull things apart and say, ‘This is the back of your eye, here’s the macular degeneration, this is why we’re concerned, and this is why you need to see a specialist.’”
The scans are useful to help convince patients who are dealing with glaucoma, too.
“If I’m having trouble getting people to take their drops, I can say, ‘Hey, look—this is what your eye looks like. This is why we need you take your drops,’” he said.
A scan from the HD-OCT won’t be part of every routine eye exam unless the patient has a history of eye disease or the optometrists suspect something may be wrong.
But Unruh also said they will make it available to anyone who asks for one.
“If there’s not a reason to do it previously, then insurance doesn’t cover it,” he said. “But we have a screening method where we can do a quick screen and might charge you $12 out of pocket.”
In addition to having the capability to visually display an eye issue, doing a scan in the local office can save the patient a trip to an out-of-town specialist.
“Now, instead of sending people just to get this if we’re not quite sure, we just say come do a scan and we can know right then and there if they definitely need to go or if they definitely don’t need to go,” Unruh said. “It will save people a trip.”
Unruh estimated that it’s still somewhat rare for an optometry practice to have an HD-OCT in the office—maybe one in five.
“For smaller practices, they’re pretty expensive so that can be pretty prohibitive,” he said. “If you have a lot of demand for it, then people are definitely going to have one.
The HD-OCT is being transported back and forth as needed between the Mid Kansas Eye Care offices in Hillsboro and Hesston.
“It’s a big commitment,” Unruh said about the investment. “We weren’t quite sure about it, so they let us try it for a couple of weeks to see if we’d use it much. We used it probably two to three times more than we thought we would.”
Unruh said the machine is an asset for both the optometrist and the patient.
“Every time something comes up and you’re not quite sure about it, we take a scan and it puts our mind at rest, and puts the patient’s mind at rest instead of making them take a trip to Wichita if they don’t have to go there,” he said.